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Sourdough Starter Crumpets

There’s always a dilemma when making sourdough, that is, what to do with left over starter. I often add sourdough starter to baking with man-made yeast, for added rise and that extra sourdough flavour.

Making sourdough crumpets is another favourite. There are recipes that suggest only using starter, with bicarbonate of soda added of course. Having tried these recipes, I’m not a fan of the resulting intensely “sour” flavour of the crumpets.

So I have experimented with a few versions and have come up with a recipe that is now my go-to crumpet recipe. In fact it’s easier than ordinary recipes involving man-made yeast!

The quantities are simple: equal amounts of strong flour, sourdough starter and water, plus a little salt and sugar and the bicarb. No proving or waiting involved. And the result is beautiful, flavoursome, dense crumpets complete with those crumpet holes!

Ingredients

200g strong flour 

200g sourdough starter 

200g water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2-3 tablespoons butter for cooking/greasing

Method

You will need a fairly large frying pan for the recipe plus crumpet rings. I used to use silicone egg rings until I invested in proper metal crumpet rings. The egg rings are fine, but I do like the stability of the metal rings.

Mix the flour, sourdough starter and water to a smooth paste. Add the salt and sugar and mix again. Add the bicarb. At this stage you will see some bubbles from the bicarb reaction. I get varying degrees of bubbles but I find that the crumpets still do their thing even when there are less bubbles.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and melt over low heat. Once the butter melts, use a pastry brush to carefully butter 4 crumpet rings. I use this method as it saves on melting butter separately. Add another tablespoon of butter, turn up the heat to medium and leave the rings in the pan to heat up.

Now it’s time to cook the crumpets. Several important things to remember. Clean the crumpet rings in between cooking and butter again, otherwise the crumpets are in danger of sticking. Fill the crumpet rings half to three quarters full. Half for a traditional size crumpet and three quarters for a whopper size. I like my crumpets thick but I’ve learned from experience that filling the rings with too much mixture means the crumpets spill over the top and quite frankly end up so thick they don’t fit in the toaster!

Cook the number of crumpets that can fit in your pan. In my case, I can cook three at a time. I’ve always got the fourth ring ready to go with more mixture. Keep on cooking until you’ve used all the mixture. I usually get 6-9 crumpets from a mixture.

Fill each ring with the required amount of mixture and leave for a good 6-10 minutes to cook. The crumpets should rise and have almost cooked through. Remove the rings with tongs and flip over. The crumpets should be brown underneath. (If you can’t remove the rings don’t worry, turn the crumpets over in the rings and then remove the rings once cooked.)

Cook for a couple of minutes on the second side until brown. Remove from the pan. I find that the crumpets don’t all cook at the same rate so I remove them at different times.

Use the remaining tablespoon of butter as necessary to butter the rings for the next rounds of crumpets and also to add a little more butter to the pan as you cook more crumpets.

A word on holes. When you cook the first side, after a few minutes you will see the trademark holes forming on the top. The holes develop and pop as the mixture dries out.

I give the holes a helping hand, by popping the emerging holes with a skewer. I think this is quite acceptable as the ultimate aim in having holes is to allow more butter to be absorbed!

The crumpets, as is traditional, need to be toasted. Don’t be tempted to eat them untoasted just because they are freshly made!

I make these crumpets whenever I have left over starter after bread making and sometimes I top up my starter just to make a batch of crumpets.

They also freeze beautifully – I always have a few packs of crumpets ready to unfreeze and then toasted.

I serve them with lots of butter and good quality honey or jam. In the photos I served them with my homemade strawberry conserve, recipe here.

If you’re a dedicated sourdough bread maker, this is the perfect recipe to use that precious starter you have worked so hard to develop and want to put to good use.

Christmas Pudding Leftovers Strudel

It’s 6 January, Twelfth Night, and I’ve just taken down the Christmas decorations and returned my little living Christmas tree back to the fresh air in the garden.

I love Christmas pudding, but invariably always have some left over. So when I discovered Jamie Oliver’s fabulous recipe for Christmas Pudding Strudel, I was excited to find another way of serving up the remains of our delicious pudding.

It’s a lovely way to reinvent Christmas pudding leftovers and make something really yummy and quite special. I blogged this way back in 2015, but I thought it was worth reblogging in 2020! It’s basically layers of filo pastry, filled with grated apple, pear or quince, crumbled Christmas pudding and a surprise chocolate centre.

Ingredients

12 sheets filo pastry – if frozen, thaw.  I mention in my original post that perhaps you could use less filo, as 12 layers is a little too much

125 g butter, melted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

100 g demerara sugar + more for dusting when serving

4 ginger nut biscuits

400 g leftover Christmas pudding

3 apples or pears or 2 quinces or a mixture of the three

50 g good-quality chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan forced.  Lay out 6 sheets of filo pastry on a clean tea towel, overlapping each by an inch or so, so they cover the tea towel.
The filo should cover the tea towel completely, with just a little overhang at one of the shorter ends.

Work quickly so your pastry doesn’t dry out and brush some melted butter all over it. Sprinkle over the cinnamon and 50 g of the sugar, then crumble over your ginger nut biscuits to add crunch. Carefully layer the rest of the pastry sheets on top and brush again with butter.

Use your hands to crumble the Christmas pudding into a bowl then grate in the fruit, everything except the cores. (Jamie says to use the cores  – I don’t think you need them.) You want to have about the same amount of grated fruit as you’ve got pudding. Add about 2 tablespoons of sugar, and mix it all together to break up the pudding a bit more. Sprinkle this all over the pastry so it’s roughly covered, leaving the overhang clear. Place the chocolate in a row on top of the Christmas pudding, down the short side nearest the overhang. 

Fold the overhang over the chocolate and pinch it up, then lift up your tea towel, and use it to help you carefully roll up your strudel. Tuck the ends under to seal it and transfer to a large nonstick baking tray. Brush it all over with butter then sprinkle over a little more sugar. If it looks a bit rough, you could wrap an extra layer of filo round it before cooking to make it neater. Bake in the hot oven for about 40 minutes until crisp and golden. You may get a split once cooked – I agree with Jamie that that would add to the rustic effect!

Leave to cool, then use a serrated knife to cut the strudel into 5 cm slices.

Note: This recipe makes quite a large strudel –the photos here are of half the strudel.

Christmas Cake 2019

I know it’s a little late, well let’s face it, it’s very late, to be posting about Christmas cake on Christmas Eve! But I really wanted to show some lovely photos of the cake I made for John, and his charming decorations with a definite Australian touch!

Readers of this blog will have seen a few posts in the past of the recipe for the Christmas cake. It’s a family recipe, handed down through the generations. It’s a dark fruit cake, full of dried fruit and glacé fruit and spices. The full recipe is big: 12 eggs, half a kilo of butter and of sugar, one and half kilos of dried fruit and a kilo of glacé fruit! As well as flour, spices, essences and alcohol etc.

This year I made the big mixture. I was able to bake 2 large cakes from this, and even managed a baby one with some leftover mixture.

One of the big cakes went to John, long time friend and a connoisseur of good food. I ice my cakes with a covering of home made marzipan, then top with royal icing. The cakes are a blank canvas on which you can create whatever decoration you fancy. John had a few ideas, but the lead photos are my favourites, as they feature a beautiful banksia cone as decoration. Banksias are an interesting Australian species, and the startling looking cones were the inspiration for Mae Gibbs’ Big Bad Banksia Men from her wonderful “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”.

So here is the link to the Christmas cake recipe. This post has the recipes for the big cake, and what I call the medium cake, that is, a cake that is made with half of the ingredients of the mother cake.

And the photos are of John’s cake – well done, your decorations look great!

Festive Christmas Desserts

It’s 14 December. Just 11 more sleeps till Christmas! My Christmas baking is well under way, that is, I have made an awful lot of gingerbread and shortbread this last week, to give as small gifts to friends and colleagues.

I haven’t completely settled on a menu for the day itself. In Australia it’s usually hot, but we have sometimes had a chilly spell taking everyone by surprise. I usually cover both weather situations by having the festive meats hot accompanied by lots of cold salads.

Hmmm. Dessert. What to do this year? I have 4 main Chrissie desserts. Trifle – everyone’s favourite. Ice cream bombe, great for those hot days. A tiramisu style dessert for something a little different. Or the Great Australian Dessert, pavlova! Always a winner in my experience.

I know which way I’m going this year, but you’ll have to wait a bit before the big reveal.

I thought it would be good to recap some desserts that I’ve made at Christmas over the years. Maybe you might even get some inspiration if you’re looking for the perfect end to the meal!

Here are the links to some sweet treats, in no particular order, that I have made for Christmas in the past, or that would be perfect on the big day.

Peach, Passionfruit and BlackBerry Meringue Trifle – my own concoction and full of all the flavours I love at Christmas!

Christmas Pudding Cake, a Nigella Lawson recipe that celebrates tiramisu and trifle.

Christmas Festive Trifle, based on a very bright and colourful Queen Vanilla recipe.

Pavlova with Blackberries, Raspberries and Toasted Macadamias, a fabulous dessert whipped up by a wonderful friend who has a deft touch with pavlovas!

Christmas Cherry Cheesecake Semifreddo, a lovely ice cream bombe from Jamie Oliver.

For the Love of Sourdough

I’m a sourdough evangelist. And I will preach to anyone who will listen – to which my friends will testify!

The power of natural yeast to change flour and water into a beautiful, intense flavoured loaf of bread is a wonderful thing. I began baking sourdough bread a few years ago, but this year I have embarked on a journey to develop my skills and come up with the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s no such thing, but every loaf has its value and provides a lesson in what works and what can be improved.

I make a lot of sourdough bread, and I’ve come a long way in my journey. So I thought it would helpful to write up my current sourdough process. I hope that readers of this blog will enjoy this latest account, and perhaps will be inspired to make their first – or next – sourdough loaf.

And here I should say that I have developed my sourdough skills through reading and following the procedures, advice and hands on experiences of the baking doctor James Morton. He is the high priest of sourdough, and his latest book Super Sourdough (Hardie Grant Publishing) is an instruction manual and bakers’ bible in one.

It’s also full of commonsense and incredibly helpful advice and excellent recipes. I really recommend it.

Here is the sourdough process that is producing well risen, beautiful tasting and relatively consistent loaves for me, based on the James Morton method.

An important aspect of making sourdough is the baking component. I use the cast iron pot method, of which much has been written, particularly on the internet. The principle seems to be that baking the bread inside a pot creates steam which helps the bread to rise.

A note on a sourdough starter. I’m including a method suggested by James Morton that has worked for me. My starter is incredibly active and makes my dough rise really well. There are many methods around for starters, and I don’t claim to be enough of an expert to say definitively which ones are best.

Sourdough starter
Put 100g wholemeal flour and 100g fruit juice into a glass jar and mix. Leave for about 5 days or until it develops lots of bubbles. Feed with equal amounts of flour and water, at least as much flour as is already in the jar. After the first feed, you will need to discard some starter, to maintain a reasonable size starter in the jar. The starter can be used to make bread once it consistently grows in size after being fed.

If you’re not making bread everyday, and therefore using up starter, you can store the starter in the fridge and feed once a week.

Ingredients
450g strong flour
150g sourdough starter
325g tepid water
10g salt

Method

Mix
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Add the sourdough starter and the water. Don’t add the salt just yet. Mix very roughly just enough to incorporate the ingredients.

Autolyse
Cover and leave for 30 minutes so the mixture can autolyse. I use a clear plastic shower cap as a cover, as it fits nicely over most sized bowls. A plastic bag is fine too.

Knead and Prove
Add the salt to the mixture. Now you can choose to knead the mixture using a dough hook in an electric stand mixer, knead by hand or use the stretch and fold method, essentially a no knead way of developing gluten in the dough. If you want to knead by hand, that’s fine, but I don’t, so I won’t describe here. There is plenty of information out there about ways of kneading!

If using a mixer, mix the dough for 6 minutes on the lowest speed, then 4 minutes on the next speed up. The dough should be lovely and stretchy, and pass the windowpane test if you pull and stretch a small section – it should be translucent. Cover the bowl again and leave the dough in a warm place to prove for about 4 hours. The advantages of this method are less work and you can leave the dough alone for the 4 hours.

The stretch and fold method is great if you don’t want to knead and if you haven’t got an electric mixer. Remove the cover from the dough. You need to wet your fingers for this method, to stop your fingers sticking to the dough. Gently grab one of the edges of the dough and fold over into the middle. Repeat, turning the bowl around so you have lifted up all of the dough and folded into the middle.The dough should start to feel stretchy. Do this stretching and folding of the dough about 4 or more times, covering the bowl again after each stretch and fold. The whole stretch and fold method should be done over 4 hours.

After the first prove of 4 hours the dough should have increased in size by at least 50%.

Pre-shape
Now comes the interesting part of the process for, getting the dough into a shape that can then be shaped for baking. I was very nervous of pre-shaping initially, now its my favourite part of bread making!

Carefully remove the dough from the bowl with help of a dough scraper onto an unfloured work surface. Definitely no flour needed! I use an oversized wooden board, but a bench top will work too. The dough will be stretchy, and quite delicate, so no rough treatment. Slide the scraper underneath the dough, lifting it from underneath. You will feel the scraper catch the dough as it lifts it up. I try not to remove the scraper, just move it round all of the dough in a circle. Sometimes the scraper sticks, and you need to pull it out, remove the sticky dough, and then go under again, but the more you move around the dough, the tighter the dough becomes and the less likely to stick. Do this circular movement with the scraper a few times until the dough forms a round, wobbly ball that roughly holds its shape. Leave for 20-30 minutes to let the gluten relax.

Shape
I shape my sourdough loaves to fit the 2 cast iron pots I bake in. One is round, perfect for a boule shape. The other is oval, which is fine for a batard shape.

It’s important that you are super careful with the shaping. The dough is delicate and you don’t want to damage the dough you have worked so hard to develop.

For a round boule: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the round of dough is a clock face. Take one edge of the dough at 12 o’clock and gently pull towards you, and fold into the centre of the dough. Move the dough around to 3 o’clock and pull and fold again. Move to 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, pulling and folding. Do this process a few times until the dough feels tight and a little bouncy. Turn the dough over. Scoop the dough into curved hands and rock the dough backwards and forwards, until the dough feels tight and smooth.

For a batard: put the pre-shaped dough onto the work surface, lightly floured. Imagine the dough is sort of square shape. Take the two sides of the square shape that are opposite each other and gently stretch away from each other. Fold these stretched bits over each other in the centre of the dough. Turn the dough round 90 degrees and do the same with the other two sides of the square. Now that you have folded the 4 sides of the square, fold 2 of the opposing corners in the same way, and then fold the other opposing corners. Take any side of the dough and roll up like a Swiss roll. Press the seam to seal.

For either shape, carefully move the dough into a proving basket, round or batard shaped, with the smooth side of the dough on the bottom and the seam side on top.

Second Prove
While you can prove your dough for 2-3 hours at room temperature, I advocate the retarded or fridge prove, and this method serves me well. Leave the dough at room temperature for an hour then place in the fridge for 8-12 hours. Doing this at night works well as it allows you to bake your bread first thing the next morning.

Score and Bake
For the pot method, pre-heat your oven to really hot – 250 degrees C. Put the pot in when you begin to pre- heat, and leave for 20-30 minutes. The pot will certainly be really hot after half an hour – and perhaps this is a waste of energy – but I sometimes want to be completely sure the pot is hot, so I go the extra 10 minutes.

Turn your dough out of the proving basket onto a thin flat baking tray or peel, well dusted with semolina. The pretty side of the dough is now on top. Open the oven and carefully take the lid of the pre-heated pot off. You can then slide the shaped dough into the hot pot.

At this point you can score the dough using a lame or razor blade or sharp knife. For a boule, scoring with a cross is good, however, I sometimes score with 2 parallel slashes, giving the bread more of an oval shape. For a batard, score with 1 or 2 long cuts down the length of the dough.

Pop the lid back on the pot and close the oven door. Turn the oven to 220 degrees C or 200 degrees C fan-forced. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 20-30 minutes with the lid off. I have experimented endlessly with this latter cooking time, and have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes gives a lighter brown loaf, softer in the middle, while 30 minutes gives a richer, browner loaf not quite as soft.

Remove the bread to a wire rack or board and leave to cool for an hour before cutting.

That’s it. I have tried to explain what works for me. There are infinite variations on the how-to of sourdough bread making. This is just one method. I can only encourage you to try this method, or any other, to discover the joys and pleasures and the huge satisfaction of turning flour and water into a magnificent loaf of bread.

Victoria Sponge

I love having morning and afternoon teas. It’s a great way to catch up with friends and I like the fact that I can prepare everything in advance, from cakes to scones to sandwiches.

A big favourite is my Victoria Sponge. It’s a delicious cake, and filled with jam or cream, it’s so more-ish. The recipe is based on one from James and Tom Morton’s “Shetland, Cooking on the Edge of the World”.

James describes in vivid detail his grandmother’s recipe. It really is a tribute to her baking skills and to recipes handed down through the family.

Now Queen Victoria would not be at all amused, as I fill my sponge with cream. Sacrilege I know, but I love the ooze of softly whipped cream on top of jam in between those delicious sponge layers!

Ingredients 

150g salted butter

150g caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 medium free-range eggs

150g self raising flour 

1/2 tsp baking powder

Full fat milk, to loosen mixture

To fill and decorate

Strawberry or raspberry or mixed berry jam, homemade or store bought, 

200 mls cream, whipped 

Icing sugar or caster sugar, for the top of the cake

Fresh and crystallised rose petals 

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease 2 18cm (7 inch) cake tins with butter, really really well.

Take a large piece baking or parchment paper, fold in half, and draw a circle around one of the tins. With the drawing as a guide, cut out 2 circles.  Line the base of each cake tin with the paper circles. 

Heat the butter in a microwave or in a saucepan on the stove top, to the point where half the butter is just melted, and the rest is soft. Put the butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs into a mixing bowl, or stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and whisk on medium speed until the mixture is very pale and thick, almost mousse like.

Sieve the flour and baking powder, and fold these in gently using a metal spoon, being careful not to overmix. When the mixture is nearly smooth, add a little milk, a dash at a time, to loosen the mixture “until it falls from the spoon in a swift wave”.

Spoon the mixture into the tins, gently smoothing flat. Put the cakes into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and the cakes bounce back when gently pressed.

Take out of the oven, and cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Run a butter or palette knife around the edge of the tins to free the sides. Carefully turn the cakes onto a wire cooling rack. Peel off the baking/parchment paper. Leave to completely cool.

Place one cake, upside down on the plate or cake stand you intend to serve the cake on. Spread with the jam, and then spoon or pipe on the whipped cream. Place the other cake on top. 

Dust with icing or caster sugar, sieved over the cake. I like to serve the cake with fresh and crystallised rose petals.

For the crystallised rose petals:

Take one lovely rose, hopefully growing in your garden, and gently wash and dry each petal. Lightly beat an egg white, with a few drops of rosewater, in a small shallow bowl. Dip each petal in the beaten egg white, shaking off any excess. Put 75g caster sugar on a large plate. Dip each petal in the caster sugar, again shaking off the excess. Place the petals on baking paper on a tray, to dry, in a warm place. 

The petals are quite fragile, but will last a couple of days. They are very useful for decorating cakes, biscuits and tarts. And adding the rosewater intensifies the rose flavour!


Mango and Berry Easy Ice Cream

This is a really simple way to make a “cheat’s” ice cream that is super refreshing, super simple and super good for you! It’s not new – everyone has been doing it, including Jamie Oliver in Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals.

It’s less a recipe than a procedure. Really, it’s just frozen fruit blitzed with yoghurt with a little honey for sweetness, to make a kind of frozen delicacy with a lovely ice cream like texture.

I have listed what works well for me, but find your version by varying the fruit used and the ratio of frozen fruit to yoghurt. My chosen fruit was mango and mixed blueberries and raspberries.

Ingredients 

A quantity of frozen fruit – mango, banana, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, papaya, peaches, nectarines, plums

Yoghurt – Greek yoghurt is nicest, but the recipe works well with low fat yoghurt too.

Runny honey 

Mint leaves, fresh berries for decorating 

Method

To make ice cream for two, or one greedy person, put 3 handfuls of frozen fruit into the bowl of a food processor with 3 tablespoons of yoghurt. Add 1 tablespoon of runny honey, or less, if you want less sweetness.

Blitz in the food processor until you have a creamy frozen mixture. Add more fruit or more yoghurt if you are not satisfied with the consistency and then blitz again.

 I don’t weigh my quantities – I really think you need to judge whether you have the ratio right by the look and texture of the resulting ice cream. 

Serve immediately in glasses, bowls or cones. It will melt quite quickly so speed is of the essence. Chilling the glasses or bowls is a good idea too. You can freeze leftover ice cream, but in my experience it’s a little grainy. Just make enough to eat in one sitting!

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